Dismissal of genital mutilation charges in Michigan is a chilling blow to women’s rights

In a striking blow to women’s rights, a federal judge dismissed charges Tuesday against two Michigan doctors for carrying out female genital mutilation, saying a federal ban on the procedure is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said it’s up to states, not Congress, to regulate the practice. The judge dismissed mutilation and conspiracy charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and Dr. Fakhruddin Attar.

Similar charges were dropped against four women who took their daughters to the clinic, and charges were dismissed against Attar’s wife, Farida, and Tahera Shafiq, who helped with the procedure. 

“As despicable as [FGM] may be,” Friedman said, Congress “overstepped its bounds” by banning the practice.

The case is the first of its kind in the nation.

Female genital mutilation involves cutting or removing the clitoris – a procedure that the World Health Organization calls “a violation of the human rights of girls and women” that “has no health benefits.”

But in some cultures, it’s a common religious practice.

All of the defendants are members of the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community.

In two cases, mothers tricked their 7-year-olds into believing they were taking a trip to Detroit. Instead, the children’s genitals were cut.

Female gender mutilation has been banned in more than 30 countries, including the U.S., which made it a 5-year felony to perform the procedure in 1996.

Michigan is among 27 states to ban the procedure. The defendants could not be charged under the state’s law because the allegations precede the passage of the ban in 2017.

The U.S. attorney in Detroit has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.